Study pinpoints most common emergency room errors, examines causes

On behalf of William Dean

A recent study examines the most common emergency room errors and the factors commonly present in each.

If you need to visit the emergency room, you have likely suffered a sudden and serious event such as a heart attack or car accident. Regardless of what brings you to the emergency room, you depend on the doctors, nurses and other healthcare professions there to be competent and do what they can to ensure a favorable outcome.

In many cases, the care that you receive is appropriate. However, some patients may receive substandard or negligent care because of an error made during the treatment. Unfortunately, if such an emergency room error occurs during your treatment, you are needlessly put at a serious risk of injury or death.

In an effort to reduce the risk of emergency room errors, The Doctors Company, a medical malpractice insurance provider, recently conducted a study on the subject. The study tabulated the most common emergency room errors and determined the factors that were most often present in them.

What the study found

The study, Emergency Medicine Closed Claims Study, examined 332 closed claims where patients had sued a hospital because of negligent care received in the emergency room. Having examined the claims, researchers identified that most claims fell into four categories:

Errors in diagnosis: About 57 percent of the claims stemmed from some kind of error in the diagnostic process, including delays in diagnosis or misdiagnoses.

Treatment management failures: Errors made during the treatment process made up 13 percent of the claims. An example of this type of error included failure to adequately stabilize a trauma patient's neck, leading to paralysis.

Wrong treatments: Surprisingly, treatment that was inappropriate for the patient's condition was present in only 5 percent of claims.

Medication failures: The emergency room provider failed to order necessary medication (e.g. antibiotics for an infection) in 3 percent of claims.

Why did these four main types of errors occur? The study identified several factors that were the probable causes in each case. It found that the majority (52 percent) of errors were brought on, at least partially, by patient assessment mistakes. This cause of error involved a range of diagnostic errors such as failing to order tests, neglecting to establish a differential diagnosis and other related errors.

Following diagnostic errors, actions on the patient's part that interfered with treatment were present in 21 percent of the negligence claims. In such cases, the patient failed to follow the treatment plan or show up at follow-up appointments, for example.

Also, communication errors had a significant presence in the negligence cases that were studied. Approximately 17 percent of cases involved poor communication among healthcare provides. In these cases, the provider failed to review the patient's medical record or did not adequate communicate with other providers. Patient-provider miscommunication was present in 14 percent of cases. In such cases, the provider failed to communicate the treatment plan to the patient, had poor rapport with the patient, or the patient was unable to understand the provider due to a language barrier.

Documentation errors were less prevalent in the negligence cases studied. Present in 13 percent of claims, this type of error included instances where the provider failed to record information or review the patient's medical record. Also, provider overwork (e.g. insufficient staffing levels or long wait times) was present in 12 percent of claims.

If injured, get legal assistance

From the study's findings, it is clear that the majority of emergency room errors could be avoided with better communication and more thorough diagnostic procedures. Unfortunately, in many cases, it is not until the hospital faces a medical malpractice lawsuit that it sees the wisdom of making the necessary reforms to protect patient safety.

If you or a loved one have suffered because of an emergency room error, contact the experienced attorneys at Ford, Dean & Rotundo, P.A. With over 40 years of medical malpractice experience, our attorneys will work hard on your behalf to secure the full compensation you deserve under law.